As I mentioned in one of my last blogs Dan and I visited the Cope Centre (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise centre) whilst we were in Vientiane and I wanted to talk a little bit about the fantastic work that the people at the centre do. A it's core Cope is a health centre that aides the many people disabled by the unexploded bombs and mines left over from the extensive secret bombing of Laos undertaken by the US during the Vietnam war.
The informed among you may know all about the secret bombings of Laos and Cambodia but I had no knowledge prior to this trip. I think that's one of the pleasures of travelling, that you have the time to see some of the subjects in detail and really learn the history of these turbulent times. I can't remember whether I talked about it much in the last blog but Laos was heavily carpet bombed during the secret war. Cluster bombs are capsules - 1000lbs or so that dispense tennis-ball sized submunitions over a wide area. Apparently around 30% dropped on Laos failed to explode on impact.
From the Cope site ...SOME STATISTICS TO REMEMBER:
- 260 million
Estimated number of sub-munitions (bombies) from cluster bombs dropped over Lao PDR between 1964 and 1973.
- 2 million tons
Estimated ordnance dropped on Lao PDR between 1964 and 1973
- 580 000
Estimated number of bombing missions flown over Lao PDR between 1964 and 1973
Estimated failure rate of sub-munitions under ideal conditions.
- 80 million
Estimated number of sub-munitions that failed to explode.
Estimated number of unexploded sub-munitions destroyed by UXO LAO from 1996 to December 2009.
Estimated number of new casualties from UXO incidents every year in Lao PDR
The visitor centre is full of information regarding the landmine situation in Laos. It was absolutely heart wrenching to read the stories of the victims. Often it is innocent children who stumble across these unexploded bombs, unknowingly, leading to fatal results. It seems in Laos there is money to be made in collecting scrap metal and often many victims are just trying to collect them to make a living but again putting themselves, and others around them, in danger. The centre works incredibly hard with those who have been injured to provide artificial limbs, rehabilitation projects, physiotherapy and so on. I found it interesting to learn of the work they do for those who suffered injuries 30 or 40 years ago. Many of these victims were not badly injured perhaps some damage to the legs or arms but were injured badly enough for it to affect their livelihood. The cope centre have helped these people to find work and ways of making money to support their families.
The centre generates funds by collecting donations and selling merchandise. All profits go to support the costs associated with patient treatment. This includes: transportation, accomodation and meal costs, costs associated with treatment and rehabilitation, and the cost of manufacturing prosthetic or orthopaedic devices required by the patients.
In covering the costs of these services, the COPE Visitor Centre increases the capacity of disabled people to improve their own mobility, which in turn increases their capacity for self reliance by not feeling like a burden any more, and gives them opportunities for economic development. The COPE Visitor Centre also provides people with disabilities the chance to contribute to their own welfare by creating merchandise, which is sold through the gift shop.
I learnt a huge amount in the few hours we were at the cope centre and I'm really please Dan and I were able to visit and donate to support to the fantastic work they do.